Movie Review: Dunkirk

When the credits roll on Christopher Nolan’s latest film – a cinematic experience that brings the full scale of the Battle of Dunkirk to the big screen for the first time – the audience is left speechless. Unlike nearly all of his other films, it’s not because you’re trying to digest the final twist or resolve the lingering ambiguity of a spinning top or space and time.

I was speechless because the film bombarded my senses, the story hit the rawest of human emotions, and the filmmaking was as powerful as it was masterful.

Despite many top critics calling Dunkirk one of, if not the best war film of all-time, Christopher Nolan maintains that he doesn’t view it as a war film at all. He views it more as a suspense thriller. But the experience of viewing Dunkirk transcends movie genre or rankings.

From its opening scenes, you realize this is a film unlike any other. The technical aspects of the film (the cinematography, the direction, the music, the sound) are stunningly beautiful, but the life-or-death reality of the very real history on display shakes you out of being able to fully focus or appreciate it.

For much of the movie, it almost feels like a silent film. The most striking dialogue in the film is Hans Zimmer’s everpresent score, which guides and tracks the heartbeats and breathing patterns of both the characters and the viewers.

After walking out of the IMAX 70mm viewing of one of my favorite filmmaker’s latest, I was struck by how much this film reveals Nolan is continuing to improve and master his craft. Although he calls Dunkirk the most experimental film he’s made since Memento, it doesn’t feel as experimental as Interstellar or Inception because the risks he takes with Dunkirk all work seamlessly and deliver. He uses his knack for narrative trickery, but is up front and honest about the rules of the game early, using it to service what would otherwise be an impossible story to tell in a traditional, linear format.

And it’s that story that wins the day, torn from Britain’s history and one of the most emblematic in human history of persisting in the face of evil. When asked why he decided to make this movie, Nolan answered:

This tale is about the idea of home. It’s about the desperate frustration of not being able to get to where you need to be. We live an era where the idea of too many people piling onto one boat to try and cross difficult waters safely isn’t something that people can dismiss as a story from 1940 anymore. We live in an era where the virtue of individuality is very much overstated. The idea of communal responsibility and communal heroism and what can be achieved through community is unfashionable. Dunkirk is a very emotional story for me because it represents what’s being lost.

Every World War II film serves as a reminder of just how much previous generations suffered and sacrificed to allow us to live the soft and comfortable lives so many of us live today. It’s a reminder of wars where civilians also paid the ultimate sacrifice. It’s also a reminder of how much we mythologize history, forgetting the moments where freedom was most fragile and the future most uncertain. It’s in these moments where ordinary people display extraordinary attributes to survive and protect others.

Besides being a groundbreaking war film and the culmination of Nolan’s already masterful career, Dunkirk’s greatest contribution is reminding us of what’s being lost now – and giving us clues as to how those who came before us were able to heroically keep the best of humanity alive. It’s not in the glory of a glossy, Hollywood version of war, but in the gritty and ghastly reality of it.


Posted on by Joseph Williams in Entertainment, Featured, Movie Reviews, Movies

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